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Bomber Report

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue get their man

Posted: 12/5/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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The Winnpieg Blue Bombers officially ended their hunt for a new head coach on Wednesday, handing the reins to former Toronto Argonauts special teams boss Mike O'Shea.

 

There's a story there, one about how a kid from North Bay, Ont. grew up to become a longtime CFL linebacker, and now a rare Canadian head coach in the CFL. For now, let's focus on this: At just 43, O'Shea becomes the 30th head coach in Bombers history and the fourth in as many years, following the tangled departures of Mike Kelly, Paul LaPolice and, most recently, Tim Burke.

For O'Shea's reveal, the Bombers sought to make a splash. They commandeered the Wellington Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel downtown and issued an invitation to all their fans, as many as appromixately 100 of whom filed in wearing suits or threadbare Bombers hats perched above curious eyes. The club squeezed the press conference between Roar of the Rings draws, so media could hurry back to watch Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen fight to keep Olympic dreams alive.

Little details, this time done right, and wrapped up in language that spoke of forward momentum, and a facelifted Bombers pride.

"Today is another monumental step forwards, as we continue to revamp and retool our football operations department," said spokesman Darren Cameron as he opened the press conference before turning the floor over to Walters, himself installed as the permanent Bombers GM just last week.

Walters said little then, just a handful of carefully polished words. There was an "extensive search process," he said, the club "wanted to find a leader," one with strong character and a big football IQ.

"We found that man," the GM said, and announced O'Shea's name. The crowd burst into applause and for 40 seconds they kept on clapping. They clapped long and loud enough to drown out the jangly bits of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which blared from the ceiling.

You ain't seen n-n-n-nothing yet...

"This is something I didn't expect," O'Shea said, surveying all the faces in the room, including that of his son, Michael, 13, who joined his dad for the announcement. "I expected a press conference, and you expect the members of the media to sit in front of you. But to see people like this cheering, it helps solidify why you make a decision like this."

And with that, O'Shea joined the helm of the Bombers' listing ship, just the second Canadian sideline boss in the league (the other is B.C. Lions coach Mike Benevides). It was an easy decision to make, he said. He talked about how he approved of the Bombers' organizational shuffle, when Walters was named GM.

"I knew that was a step in the right direction," he said, but to be fair there may be little bit of bias there. Walters and O'Shea were teammates 25 years agao at the University of Guelph. Walters remembers running into the former linebacker as a daunting wall in training camp. O'Shea recalls his new boss as a scrappy rookie tailback. They've chatted friendly through the years, talking football at CFL events.

Now, O'Shea must begin to put his own stamp on the staff and then the product on the field. He has a list of coaches he'd like to interview and plans to start the process of interviewing them soon.

"I'm looking for the best teachers out there," O'Shea said. "I'm going to see how these guys teach and see how they fit in with my beliefs, see how we can work together. It's about making the right decisions, not necessarily quick ones. And not necessarily popular ones."

Those beliefs, O'Shea expanded later, include banishing negativity from the coaching staff. His coaching philosophy centres around positive reinforcement, he said, though he noted some players might yearn to get ripped into a little bit.

"There are some very talented players here," he said. "They need to refocus. They need to believe in the process of starting to win again."

So now the Bombers have a new CEO, a firm GM and a fresh head coach. Next, they need to assemble the players to succeed, with big red circles still swooping around so many positions on the field. O'Shea is not naive to the Bombers' deficits.

He's watched tape, he said, and he plans to meet with Walters, staff and scouts this week to parse what the on-field personnel has, and what it needs, and what to do in this upcoming dispersal draft.

O'Shea refused to call the coming year a rebuild, though.

"The only reason you start a season is to win a Grey Cup," he said as the crowd burst into applause. "It's my job as a coach to get people to buy into that and to surround myself with people who are like-minded. That was a major draw into coming here. They want to win and they want to win for a long time."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Are three rookies running the Bombers too many? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2013 D1

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